Stepping outside of your comfort zone in order to achieve your goals may be a cliché, but it is also a simple truth. Civil and environmental engineering alumna J.B. Ahmad ’15, G’16, started her career journey with a choice to leave her familiar confines of southern California and head to the northeast.
“When I toured Syracuse University, I fell in love with the bright picturesque nature that surround upstate New York. For me, it supplied a feel, an experience, and a look that I didn’t think I would be able to get anywhere else,” said Ahmad. “To be able to experience seasons was something very new to me.”
In addition to being charmed by campus, Ahmad received a research fellowship that enabled her to pursue the degree and type of research she was interested in. Ahmad immediately found Syracuse University had a palpable sense of community, and the College of Engineering and Computer Science offered the right environment for her to develop her skillset.
“It felt like you had this whole extended family that’s rooting for your success,” said Ahmad. “At Syracuse I always felt a push within the department to look ahead and think bigger. I was taught how to learn, the importance of thought diversity, and innovation. My research taught me the value of examining ideas and being at the forefront of my field.”
Most of all it was the one-on-one attention from professors that had the greatest impact. Ahmad is grateful to have had the opportunity to establish deeper relationships with most of her engineering professors, but one connection stands out the most.
“My absolute favorite thing about Syracuse University is Dr. Svetoslava Todorova. I cannot put into words the depth of imprint she has left on my heart and in my life,” said Ahmad. “Her dedication to experiential learning and innovative instruction is unparalleled. She uses simulations and mock trials to promote learning on many levels. She is unbelievably patient and somehow always finds the time to give each student the attention and respect necessary to advance their ideas and knowledge. She serves as a constant reminder for me to appreciate the support and guidance I receive throughout my career, and to be a support for others whenever I can.”
“As a teacher, I remember the students who were different, who stood out from their peers by their personalities and abilities. JB was one of those students. During her studies at Syracuse University, JB distinguished herself with her innate curiosity, systematic problem-solving, and ability to interact with people from diverse backgrounds,” said Todorova. “These skills have helped her excel in her practice as a geotechnical engineer. She currently manages comprehensive billion-dollar projects, both domestic and international. She is a great example of what our students grow to become – leaders in the engineering field.”
In the short time since graduating, Ahmad returned to the west coast, currently serving as a geotechnical earthquake engineer and deputy project manager at AECOM. She has worked on several large, signature consulting assignments, including the multi-billion-dollar high-speed rail project aimed at connecting northern and southern California. Ahmad says her time at Syracuse University equipped her with agility and adaptability mindset necessary to consult on a wide-range of projects—providing innovative solutions for the world’s toughest challenges—and bring that leadership to clients. Her collective experience has helped her lead effectively in ambiguity, consistently execute on goals and priorities, and build long-term, collaborative growth partnerships with clients.
“How you think will affect what you are able to achieve,” said Ahmad. “Instead of thinking I can’t do this, try developing the belief I can’t do it yet. Setbacks can provide a way forward and through effort, learning, and persistence your skills can improve over time.”